Recently Gail Boushey asked me to recommend some books to use with students who are working on building stamina in their reading. Building stamina, or even understanding the concept, seems to be a challenge for some readers. For young readers, merely spending time with books may be new to them. As students move from picture to chapter books, they also lose stamina when it becomes difficult to hold onto a story over time.
As older students move into more sophisticated texts, they often quit reading books before completing them. When it comes to stamina, students need different types of supportive texts throughout their reading lives. In this booklist, I’ve suggested several books that might support readers at different stages of development to build stamina.
Sustaining Interest in Stories: Chapter Books with Short Chapters
As students begin to read longer books, they need to learn to hold on to a story over time. Picture books can often be finished in one day (or even minutes), so it is a shift in thinking and reading duration to move into even simple chapter books. Series books like Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant are perfect for this stage, because the chapters in these books can stand alone. Although every book in the series deals with the same characters, each chapter is a separate story. This makes Henry and Mudge a good transition to building stamina for books where readers hold onto a plot over days.
There are also picture books coming out with short chapters. A new one that works perfectly for stamina building is Wanted: The Perfect Pet by Fiona Roberton. This book consists of three connected chapters. Beginning to read books like this — with chapters and “parts” to remember — can help students build stamina to read chapters that connect over time.
Books with Similar Problems and Different Solutions
Children are able to build stamina when they read several books with something in common. Readers like to see connections as well as find surprises in stories they read.
There are many books on the market today about characters who beg their parents for a dog. Each book is a story with the same problem (wanting a dog), but the solution varies. This element of surprise will keep children reading, as they naturally compare one solution to another.
Two books dealing with wanting a dog are I Want a Dog! by Helga Bansch and A Small Brown Dog with a Wet Pink Nose by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen. Any collection of books you gather around a common theme, like making friends or starting school, can be used to help build stamina.
Books Connected to Stories Children Know and Love
Another great way to build stamina is to use twisted versions of favorite tales. Readers love to see characters they recognize pop up in unusual places. Reading about characters they know with the support of a story structure they are familiar with helps readers stick with a story. Betsy Red Hoodie by Gail Carson Levine is one such story that takes another look at Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf with a surprise twist. Zoe Alley’s There’s a Princess in the Palace and There’s a Wolf at the Door are both graphic novels that look at favorite fairy tales in a new way.
Wordless Picture Books
For students who are new to reading, stamina building often means learning to spend time alone with books. For very young readers, having enough to look at in the pictures is crucial. Reading the pictures and understanding a story told in pictures is wonderful for comprehension. Some favorite wordless picture books include Wave by Suzy Lee an A Circle of Friends by Giora Carmi. Another type of book I like for young readers building stamina are the I Spy type books. The Spot 7 series texts by Kidslabel. These books show readers two detailed photographs, with seven differences between the two photographs. The text also provides a riddle for readers. I like these books because there are a few ways to enter into making sense of the text, depending on a child’s reading ability and interests. The pictures in these books keep children engaged for long periods of time.
For older readers, sometimes stamina means sticking with a book, period. This is often difficult for students as they begin to read longer, more sophisticated books. One type of book that has supported many middle-level readers as they’ve built stamina is a novel in verse. These books are full-length novels written in poetry or verse form. Many of the books written in this way have great depth, with much to think about, but they are also broken up into short pieces which support readers building stamina. The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli, Home of the Brave by K. A. Applegate, and Diamond Willow have been loved by many of my students in recent years.
For older readers, I am also looking for books that give them a reason to stick with the text. Text that take a look at the perspective of different characters such as The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman give kids variety in their reading. The new book Emily’s Fortune by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor takes full advantage of cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. This is a terrific device for building stamina. Kate Klise (Letters from Camp and Dying to Meet You) is an author whose novels are told completely in the form of journals, tickets, newspaper articles, and other artifacts. These short pieces that connect over time often engage readers who struggle with completing a book, because they are intrigued to see what artifact will appear next to drive the story forward.